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Tuesday, 25 April, 2000, 13:41 GMT 14:41 UK
Are the whites to blame?

Zimbabwe's President Robert Mugabe has accused some of the country's estimated 70,000 whites of harbouring "vestigial attitudes from the Rhodesian era - the attitude of a master race, a master colour".

He says the country's large-scale, mainly white farmers have frustrated the government's plans for land reform. He blames the UK and United States for reneging on promises to fund the programme.

The opposition says a deeply unpopular President Mugabe is playing politics to save his own political career. They blame government bureaucracy and corruption for the failure of land reform programmes over the past 20 years.

This debate is now closed. Read your comments on the Zimbabwe land crisis below.

Read our earlier Talking Point - Zimbabwe crisis: Your views and experiences.

Click here to read a selection of the best e-mails on Zimbabwe.


Your reaction

If the white farmers want to be Zimbabweans then they should not take the British offer to go to England, they should stay and fight for their land. They should understand that blacks are the majority and they want their land back. They too want to have the fat bank accounts you have, they too want the good things in life, so you have to understand that you can not own all the land and think that the people are not going to say anything. So please stop saying you are the victims because you are not.
wee, US



I just wish my family would pack up and seek refuge in the UK, maybe then I could sleep without thinking every night is this their last?

Fiona Robinson, UK
I am the daughter of a white Zimbabwe farmer. My Mum and Dad are still on their Estate just outside Harare and they are frightened. They have packed up everything that means something to them including papers, passports etc even a suitcase of clothes in case they only have a few minutes to leave.
Before I left Zimbabwe in 1989 I remember my Dad telling that the white farmers had agreed to surrender some of their land to the "black farmers". Now why is so much time being spent on who to blame and not getting governments involved to stop Mugabe. The hand-over of land has been done in the most ruthless and disgusting way imaginable.
Yes the original white settlers may have had an antiquated attitude towards the black man in Zimbabwe but that attitude is not there anymore. We have come to respect and understand how important the black workers are to Zimbabwe. The "war veterans" who have taken over the farms are NOT FARMERS! They are YOUNG men who weren't even born let alone fought a war of independence.
I just wish my family would pack up and seek refuge in the UK, maybe then I could sleep without thinking every night is this their last?
Fiona Robinson, UK

Now that white people have stopped dying, and black people have started to, will the foreign media pay the same level of attention? For the first time in weeks, Zimbabwe has slipped from 1st position on your front news page - this is an example of a broad trend.
And, in the coming weeks, as Mugabe's strategy becomes clear - a politically motivated program of terror designed to destroy support for the opposition - will the declarations of the international community be sustained? For instance, it will become increasingly obvious in the coming weeks that under no circumstances will any elections be free and fair - will Robin Cook align his ethical foreign policy with this in mind? Or will the violent subjugation of the Zimbabwean people be dismissed as "an internal matter"?
Rutendo Mushambi, UK



What is going on in Zimbabwe has NOTHING to do with racial issues.

Dera Petlic, Botswana
Living in a neighbouring country, Botswana, I am witnessing the events in Zimbabwe from a very close range. It is a sad sight, seeing the entire country being ruined by one man, who is using the unhealed wounds from the recent past to manipulate the general public into supporting him. Exactly the same thing happened a decade ago in Serbia, when Milosevic rose to power. Looking at the chain of events in Zimbabwe, I can see no real difference between Mugabe and Milosevic, and the methods they use.
What is going on in Zimbabwe has NOTHING to do with racial issues. It is all about fragility of democracy and blindness of the general populous, things that are common for all the countries in the world. Milosevic has managed to, in ten years, bring a civilised and reasonably prosperous Serbia to its knees; what will Mugabe make out of Zimbabwe, I do not even dare to think.
Dera Petlic, Botswana, originally from Serbia

We all know that small beginnings such as this leads to eventual "ethnic cleansing", there should be an immediate involvement on the part of the international community to end this. If we all sit idle, more of Africa will be pulled in as there is no moral leadership there. There is nothing difficult in stopping this mad man thirsty for power at whatever means. Ignored he will become another Slobodan.
John, USA

The tragedy in Zimbabwe is purely economic but in a different way than the public perceives. The central problem is the overpopulation of rural Zimbabwe. Even if all the white farms were expropriated, the land crisis would continue because the land is finite and the population growth appears infinite. Within five years of getting land the crisis would repeat itself because there simply isn't enough land for unrestrained population growth.
Alexander, USA



This is not a black/white issue, it is Mugabe's way of winning elections and the sad thing is that he may well have shown that it works.

Sarah Ralston, Zimbabwean living in U.K
I think that it is too late for any free and fair elections in Zimbabwe. While we sit back in our comfortable homes all over the World discussing whether whites or blacks are to blame many innocent people have been frightened out of their homes, and I am not just talking of the white farmers. What of the farm workers and rural villagers who's few and only belongings have often been thieved, or burnt by the so-called veterans (20 years old or less).
Do you think that they are not scared sufficiently? Why is it that in twenty years there have not been other elections, could it be that any other rising opposition has been ousted before getting close. Has Morgan Tsvangirai not had an attempt on his life by Mugabe and his cronies before. This is not a black/white issue it is Mugabe's way of winning elections and the sad thing is that he may well have shown that it works. I do hope that I am wrong though.
Sarah Ralston, Zimbabwean living in U.K

I think Mugabe is acting like the typical ill-tempered African despot who suddenly finds himself on the way out. But this doesn't mean the whites are blameless. In my country land is a pretty sensitive issue. The whites would not expect to, forever, own miles of fertile land in the very midst of a starving black population. Something should have been done, pro-actively, to address the matter before `Mad Mugabe' exploited it.

Henry Ochieng, Uganda

The white farmers in Zimbabwe are being used in a very dangerous political game by their government. President Mugabe lost a vote and the people decided, black and white, to have an election now. The white farmers are being used as scapegoats to blackmail Britain into handing over more money on top of the 44 million already given and I find the support given to him by the other African nations in his illegal use of power disgraceful.
DAVID TYLER, England

Mugabe is behaving no differently from other African dictators. It is ridiculous to expect him to uphold liberal Western principles such as the rule of law. Those whites who have stayed in Zimbabwe since 1979 have been very foolish. I have far more sympathy for the women and children than for the stubborn men. It is only a matter of time before the situation in South Africa deteriorates to the same point. There is no future for whites in Africa and then sooner they get out the safer they will be.
John, New Zealand



I would venture to lay some blame with the British government for tolerating such mayhem in a former colony.

Kurt, Australia
Of course, Mugabe and his political followers are to blame for what we see now. However, I would venture to lay some blame with the British government for tolerating such mayhem in a former colony. If this horrific scenario had developed in a former French colony, I guess we would have seen some "affirmative action" by French troops. And it's still not too late for Britain to teach Mugabe's clique how to behave as responsible political leaders.
Kurt, Australia

Blaming a racial minority for the problems of the majority is and always has been the last refuge of incompetent and/or corrupt leaders. Mugabe fits both descriptions. The people we met in Zimbabwe last year, both in a study group and touring on our own, were all Africans. It didn't matter if their ancestral tribe was Shona or Ndebele, British or Afrikaans. I pray for the people of Zimbabwe for the strength to replace their government in a democratic process. If Mugabe really wants to "show up" the western countries, why not do it by building an African example of valuing diversity as he rebuilds the economy he has ruined?
Sue Lani M., USA

The crisis in Zimbabwe is quite clearly not a racial one as far more black Zimbabweans have lost their lives. It is about one man's greed for power and he cares no more about peasant war veterans than he does for white farmers. In a democratic election the white population of Zimbabwe poses no threat, Robert Mugabe is merely using them as pawns to intimidate and terrorise the surrounding black population. His next tactic will undoubtedly be to incite inter-tribal hatred to his own ends. Robert Mugabe is an evil man and supports nothing other than his own interest.
Claire, UK



The most irritating thing is that the President Mugabe is condoning this type of uncalled for and barbaric behaviour.

Keith Stewart, Scotland
What the black community are doing is totally out of order. It does not matter what the reasons are for their actions, no one has the right to kill another man especially for land. But the most irritating thing is that the President Mugabe is condoning this type of uncalled for and barbaric behaviour.
Keith Stewart, Scotland

It's all too sickening, watching this frightened little man (Mugabe) and his hired henchmen succeeding in pitting Blacks against whites only because he fears the inevitability of his own demise politically. Mugabe has until 2002 when his term expires; this must seem an eternity to the citizens of Zimbabwe. I feel sadness for them. Unfortunately the prospects for a change for the better don't look too encouraging sorry to say.
Ned Marr, USA

I totally agree with Anthony. For I too am a white Zimbabwean, although I am 23. Revenge will never bring peace to any situation! May the Lord have mercy on the government of Zimbabwe, for they will be held accountable for their inciting of murder, be it white or the blacks. For they have even killed their own people. Greed and power is the driving force that will kill the potential in a developing nation if it is not stopped. The past is history regardless of who did what! Today is what is being held into account.
Joanne, Zimbabwean residing in Canada

It is not a colour issue. It's a gender issue. Anybody who has lived and worked in Africa will tell you that the root cause of all the problems on that continent is that the men are only interested in squatting on their heels all day while the women are left to do all the work.
David, Canada



The game of politics has always been dirty and Mugabe has just bought it to a new low.

Gustav, Russia
I'm not into politics but I do know for sure that governments are elected to serve the people and not against the people. And yet, we have a case where the government is willing to sacrifice a minority of the population in order to get the support of the majority, all this just to save his own skin. The game of politics has always been dirty and Mugabe has just bought it to a new low.
Gustav, Russia

Although whites started the chain of tragedies that allows Mugabe to wear the mantle of victim of racists while practising racism himself, he is the key culprit in the present injustices. Nelson Mandela, who wields more moral authority than anyone else in Africa, and who is conveniently out of government and presumably free to speak his mind, ought to step up to the microphones to denounce Mugabe's policies, even as Thabo Mbeki carries on with his quiet diplomacy.
Michael Collins, Singapore

The latest atrocities are of nothing compared to what Mugabe has done in the past. He is fighting not alone for his political life, but for his very life as well. If the opposition party is elected to power, Mugabe will rightfully be held to answer for the deaths of perhaps 10,000 Ndebele Zimbabweans in 1982-84. The viper will use any tricks at his disposal to avoid loss of power, and the inevitable trial as a war criminal, which would follow.
John, lived in Zimbabwe, UK

To quote Samuel Johnson: "Patriotism is the last refuge of the scoundrel". You know a politician is corrupt when he wraps himself in the flag and blames a minority in the hope of distracting people from his moral bankruptcy and incompetence.
Oracen, Britain

We are witnessing the destruction of a country - it's very sad
Mike, UK



If the "new world order" wants to show a modicum of balance, it should indict Mugabe for crimes against humanity.

Pkhatau, UK
Mugabe and Mugabe only is to blame. He is trying to fan the fires of overt racism in an attempt to keep his hold on power after wrecking the economy and leading the country into a misadventure in Congo, where he (and not Zimbabwe) has a personal stake in the mineral riches of that country.
If the "new world order" wants to show a modicum of balance, it should indict Mugabe for crimes against humanity. His assets should be frozen and then show the gangster dictators of the world that this vaunted "new world order" has an interest in bringing about a genuinely better world, and is not merely a tool for Clinton and Blair to try to score brownie points.
Pkhatau, UK

WI think Mugabe has a political motive in raising this issue. Why has he suddenly bought this issue to everyone's attention now, when this could have been resolved diplomatically over the years. What people must understand is that, even if the fertile land were distributed to the black farmers, they would not have the resources to maintain that land. Cast your minds back to what happened in Uganda in the 70s. Idi Amin drove all the Asians out and ceased their properties. Twenty years on and the country has deteriorated because the locals did not have the skills or ability to operate the machinery and how to maintain the land. My view is that the land should be distributed fairly, but to drive the whites out forcibly after all the money they have invested in it is wrong.
Harry, UK

Once again - the white farmers do not have 90% of the farmland. They have about 28% and employ thousands of workers. so if the white farms are kicked of their land where does the food and employment come from. All I can see coming from the policy of removing the white farmers is another AFRICAN country who will cry out for food and aid.
Mike Cave, UK



If the distribution had been done properly all these "problems" would have not come.

Nega Desta, Ethiopia
If we know the history of Zimbabwe we may not be surprised with all this happenings. Mugabe's promise to his people when he was first elected as president, warned the white farmers their land would be returned to the BLACKS. If the distribution had been done properly all these "problems" would have not come. Sad to say, the whites are only less than ONE percent but they owned more than HALF of the farming land of Zimbabwe. The World shouldn't take it as a BLACK - WHITE conflict, it is an economic conflict! And the Whites should be compensated when they leave the fertile farmlands.
Nega Desta, Ethiopia

Are the whites to blame? This is probably the most stupid and offensive question I have ever seen. When did you ask are the ethnic Albanians to blame in Kosovo? What is going on in Zimbabwe is ethnic cleansing at its worst, with murder and rape being the standard currency. Is this black against white racism less offensive to the BBC than white against black? It would seem so, or is it simply that it is easier to use the old anti-apartheid equation of White = bad, black = good.
Richard Clarke, Britain



Mugabe was a hero in 1980 and I believe had the interests of the country at heart. Unfortunately for us he began to enjoy his power more than the adoration of the people.

Barbara, Zimbabwe
It is not about land. Anyone who thinks otherwise is not fully aware of the history and background of Zimbabwe and Mugabe. He has had 20 years to sort this issue out and it has not been in his interests to do so.
He has since independence used the money given to him by Britain to purchase 900 white owned farms - of these 200 have been resettled and 700 have been given to his ministers and mates. The people who live in the rural areas in Zimbabwe have not been given title deed to the land that they have been living on for the last 20 years. How can a rural farmer be expected to improve his standard of living when he is not able to go to a bank and get a loan to put in a bigger crop or organise irrigation for his crop, when he has no collateral to offer the bank?
Mugabe was a hero in 1980 and I believe had the interests of the country at heart. Unfortunately for us he began to enjoy his power more than the adoration of the people.
Barbara, Zimbabwe

In the UK, when a police force shows insufficient urgency in investigating the murder of someone from a racial minority, they are "institutionally racist". In Zimbabwe, when the local police sit on their hands for three hours whilst a white farmer fights for (and loses) his life against a hundred armed thugs, we're told racism (institutional or otherwise) is not a factor. Huh?
M Codd, England

If we were to use the same arguments used against the white farmers in Zimbabwe against any ethnic minority in the UK i.e. Britain belongs to the Whites etc, then we would rightly be accused of racism. Mugabe has to realise that the white farmers in Zimbabwe are Zimbabwean and that reform of land ownership, no matter how unjust it seems, has to be done through fair and democratic process, not racist intimidation
Adrian Mair, England

I'm astonished by Mike Still's comments about Zimbabwe belonging to Black Africans only! Could you imagine the uproar if we took the same line here - UK for Whites only? A mindless comment. What we are witnessing the results of a desperate man trying to hold on to power.
Adam, UK



Perhaps the only solution to this crisis, is to get the whites out now.

Tom, Australia
It does seem unfair that 1% of the population owns 95% of the best farmland, but for the time being they (the white run farms) are the backbone of the Zimbabwe economy. As for whites being only guests in Africa, some of these people are third generation or more Africans. It would sound very racist to say that Britains' Asians, some of whom are amongst the wealthiest in the community, are only guests. Perhaps the only solution to this crisis, is to get the whites out now. Hopefully, there are enough capable black farmers to sustain the Zimbabwe economy. If not, then the West will just have to provide aid to rebuild the country.
Tom, Australia

'Ethnic cleansing' is an overused epithet. This is overwhelmingly about land, money and, of course, politics. And without question, as the farmers themselves confess, the squatters have a legitimate grievance. What is totally unconscionable is the method with which they have gone about achieving their ends. Nothing justifies the attacks, the killings or the brutality, or their support by the powers that be. The irrational and impetuous character of the assault on the rights of the farmers and their families is particularly disturbing in that it has grave racial undertones.
Simon Cameron, UK

Yes, the whites are to blame. Whites like Tony Blair, who one month into the crisis mouths off platitudes of wrist slapping magnitude. Whites like Blair, who will welcome Mugabe back into England for a shopping spree on the high streets with the money he has stolen from his Zimbabwean countrymen, both black and white. So yes, whites are to blame. Very much so.
Des Currie, South Africa

What a pity for the whites we don't get our oil from there - we'd have the army in there like a shot - tobacco isn't so popular somehow...
Simon Bee, Brazil via UK

Mugabe's rule has been characterised by almost complete economic illiteracy and mismanagement, oppression of dissenters and rampant corruption. The whites - for all their mistakes in the past - are merely a convenient scapegoat. In any case, the composition of the white community has changed a good deal since the days of minority rule. The bulk of the old racists have left, and there are many whites who came out after independence to Zimbabwe either for the first time or returning from exile to help build a fairer, non-racial society. Many now wonder why they even bothered to try.
Rob Carter, USA



The BBC World Service coverage of the complex problems in Zimbabwe has been remarkably one-sided and simplistic in its support of the heirs to the white colonialists.

David Martin, USA
The BBC World Service coverage of the complex problems in Zimbabwe has been remarkably one-sided and simplistic in its support of the heirs to the white colonialists. The rich white farmers used their money to defeat a constitutional amendment so as to keep the property their ancestors seized. BBC commentators sanctimoniously insist that the "rule of law" be paramount without questioning the thievery by the colonialists that led to the current situation. The problem cannot be solved until there is land reform. We hope for more balanced coverage and less propaganda from the BBC World Service.
David Martin, USA

Mugabe has become a dreadful dictator, he seems quite mad. But there is a lack of horror in the reaction of the media and I suspect its that nasty British prejudice against any sign of wealth and a sort of modern attitude which holds any white person guilty of all the worlds ills. Its the notion that the whiter, richer and more male you are the less individual rights you have!
Judith, England

Let's face it, Zimbabwe's problems will not go away until the odious thug Mugabe has been removed from the scene. Whether this will be done by the armed forces or the opposition is too early to say. Or how about a Shayler-style MI6/SAS operation, a la Gaddafy. Now there's a thought !
Nick, UK



President Robert Mugabe is a marvellous example of what is wrong with the African continent

liban III, Somali in the States
President Robert Mugabe is a marvellous example of what is wrong with the African continent. So long we have the likes of this self serving and ignorant in public offices, Africans will never enjoy what that great land has to offer; let alone diversity and multiculturalism.
liban III, Somali in the States

Farms require expertise and skill to run. Crops don't raise themselves. If the white farmers are thrown out then the gleeful robbers who take over will find there is no magic about owning land and starvation will be the result. Then the West will be blamed again and expected to bail them out.
Henry Jones, S Africa

I really can't believe the title given to this talking point. "Are the whites to blame" Would the BBC ever dare post a headline "are the blacks to blame". Would you perhaps consider a debate on Hitler's view that the Jews were a threat to Europe with the title "were the Jews to blame"? Two farmers have been murdered in a situation condemned by Zimbabwe's own high court- how can you even consider an insensitive headline like this? Shame on you.
Richard Chubb, UK

The whites can be blamed for the injustices of the past, and the present government can be blamed for doing nothing to help things since they took over. Instead of finding fault the people of Zimbabwe need to find solutions. Unfortunately I don't see this happening in the near future.
Dave, USA

Mike Still, are we to assume that the logical extension of your argument is that Britain is for the whites and anyone else is a guest only?
Riccardo, UK





Robert Gabriel Mugabe is an old and frightened little man, like Idi Amin.

Brian Jackson, Zimbabwe/USA
Mugabe is morally bankrupt. In the current circumstances, any leader of any stature whatsoever would immediately bring the Zimbabwe Army back from war-mongering in the DRC to protect ALL citizens, and uphold the rule of law in Zimbabwe. Robert Gabriel Mugabe is an old and frightened little man, like Idi Amin. Corrupt to the core, he must ultimately be brought to justice. This is a global issue, and the UN must act NOW if it has any sort of conscience whatsoever!
Brian Jackson, Zimbabwe/USA

Commercial farms owned by white Zimbabweans bring in 40 per cent of Zimbabwe's much-needed foreign earnings, and provide employment for 16 per cent of the population. Almost 1,120,000 acres from more than 270 farms that were compulsorily purchased from whites under the Commercial Farm Resettlement Scheme have been awarded by the state to just 400 people, many of them Mugabe's ZANU-PF cronies. In Matabeleland, 24 farms forming the Marula Block - covering 191,672 acres - have been handed to 47 people, while in neighbouring Semukwe Communal area - the same size as the Marula farms - 40,000 people live in poverty. So who's really the bad news for Zimbabweans - white commercial farmers or Mugabe's government?
Henry Case, UK

Mugabe's comments yesterday, accusing the white minority of being the 'enemies of Zimbabwe' were totally uncalled for and deliberately provocative, especially after the cold blooded murder of two farmers and two opposition supporters over the last few days. South Africa should be making a stand over this potentially very volatile situation and should be prepared to use force to restore order in Zimbabwe if/when the situation worsens.
Mr Chiverton, United Kingdom

How long will people blame our ancestors? It's not my fault, nor the fault of any English person alive today.
Huw, England

What is happening in Zimbabwe is all about one word: Greed. Mugabe's greed to hold onto power at all cost. And the White Zimbabweans greed to hold onto the land at any cost.
Kofi Ellison, USA via Asuonwun, Ghana.



Robert Mugabe is learning the hard lessons of democracy, a word that he was keen to band about 20 years ago and now one he has come to despise.

Roy Chapman, UK/Germany
A couple of months ago Robert Mugabe arranged a referendum and expected to win. To boost his confidence in winning the vote he issued the changes to the constitution is pure legal English and only allowed campaigners against the changes two weeks to campaign. He lost, fair and square.
Since that point he has realised that he reign is close to an end and has instigated a hate campaign against the whites in his country. And this is where we are now.
Don't blame the whites, blame the majority of people who voted against him. If they had done as they were told instead of following their conscience they wouldn't be in the mess that they are in today. Robert Mugabe is learning the hard lessons of democracy, a word that he was keen to band about 20 years ago and now one he has come to despise.
Roy Chapman, UK/Germany

What I see on television and via the Internet is a Zimbabwe ruled by a brutal racist, ethnically cleansing his country, ignoring the world's pleas for some sense of calm and carrying on regardless.
Of course the history of this country is long and complicated, but surely no history lesson can dilute the seriousness of what we see here?
Liam Pennington, United Kingdom

Indeed, it is clear that ALL of what is going on in Zimbabwe right now is a direct result of Mr Mugabe's defeat in the constitutional referendum. He is simply punishing the white community for supporting the MDC. Something clearly has to be done be the WHOLE international community to ensure free and fair elections. This is the only way out of this mess.
Nick Farr, Zimbabwe USA Student

There seems to be a lot of people here who don't even live in the UK or Zimbabwe saying Britain should do this or Britain should do that. Excuse me, Zimbabwe opted for Independence 20 years ago. Look up the definition. So why is it that when things go wrong, it's all down to Britain again? Surely the UN should take the lead.
Steve Jennings, UK



Is peaceful democratic government inherently repulsive to African politicians?

Adrian, UK
What makes Africa so different from the rest of the world? Why is it necessary for virtually every independent African government, irrespective of how well their country is doing, to destroy their own country by clinging to power by means of perpetrating or inciting violence? Is peaceful democratic government inherently repulsive to African politicians?
Adrian, UK

Blaming "whites" is exactly the same as blaming "blacks" or "Jews". It's lumping diverse individuals together. It's the lowest thinking man can do, whether it be a vicious dictatorial thug or whining trendy leftists. It's the same thing, same thought, same end result - misery and death.
Jack Gordon, UK

Blacks have been pushed back by whites for a long time, so I could see exactly why they are killing whites. However, white people there are innocent, and have never done anything to hurt the black majority.
The Zimbabwe government should take a part in protecting whites from black mobs!!! Because next time predominately white countries like UK, USA, and Germany, want to send aid, they might just think twice. All we could do is to put our differences aside and learn to live together. Till then there will be no real peace.!!!
Amir Goodman, Israel, Tel-aviv



As a 19-year-old, white Zimbabwean, am I to blame?

Anthony, Zimbabwean in the UK
As a 19-year-old, white Zimbabwean, am I to blame? I grew up in independent Zimbabwe, I have never owned a farm, neither has my family. There is no doubt that the colonial history of my country is regrettable, there is no excuse for the killings of Mashona and Matabele people during the colonial period.
Then again there is also no excuse for the Matabeleland killings by Mugabe and his 5th brigade in the early 1980s or the recent killings of both black and white Zimbabweans. Foisting blame on colour, tribe or farmers is not the way forward. We should take our lead from people like Morgan Tsvangirai.
I believe I have just as much right as a white Zimbabwean to live in peace and justice in my country as every other Zimbabwean. Blame should be levelled at people, people like Hunzvi and Mugabe.
Anthony, Zimbabwean in the UK

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